On this day in 1675, by order of King Charles II, the cornerstone was laid for the Royal Greenwich Observatory—an institution which would provide tremendous scholarship and advancement in the fields of astronomy and navigation.
Greenwich, on the River Thames (just outside of London), has long been associated with maritime activities. Bustling docks and a hospital for sailors kept the waterfront busy. In Tudor England, Greenwich’s Palace of Placentia was a summer retreat from London’s swelter and squalor—and the birthplace of many royals including Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The royal entourage would get there by boat. In later years, the Royal Naval College further cemented Greenwich’s reputation for seafaring pursuits.
The Observatory, sited on a hill in Greenwich Park, is the location of the Greenwich Prime Meridian—the point of 0° Longitude on maps and globes. A metal band runs through the Observatory’s courtyard, marking the starting point of around-the-world distance. Nautical navigation still uses degrees of longitude based on the Prime Meridian.
The starting point for time is also marked at Greenwich, known as Greenwich Mean Time (or GMT). Radio station broadcasts will still use GMT when announcing the time, especially on the BBC and in countries of the British Commonwealth.
The cast iron doorstop, pictured above, is in the form or a 15th or 16th century seagoing vessel—perhaps a likeness of some of the ships which docked at Greenwich.